January 27, 2008

Boiled Peanuts

On the rare occasion that I find raw or green peanuts in their shells, I feel lucky. Boiled with salt, these make a deliciously addictive snack.

Peanuts are not really nuts, but legumes. They originated in South America in 2000 BCE. It wasn't until the 16th century that the Portuguese brought them to Africa, India and Asia! Isn't it almost ironic how something that only arrived a few hundred years ago has become so prominent and so integral a part of African and Asian cuisines?

In India, I have seen them being used in chutneys, spiced and roasted as a snack, or powdered and added to curries and gravies. From other cuisines, I have tried peanut soups, stews and dipping sauces. And of course, we shouldn't forget peanut butter and peanut brittle...

Peanuts are particularly susceptible to mold during storage, so check to see if your store had stored them in a cool dry place (the mold thrives in warm humid conditions).

Boiled peanuts
The recipe is simple. Cover the peanuts with water. Add plenty of salt. Taste for salt and add more as needed. The liquid should taste like sea water.

Pressure cook for 20-30 minutes or as needed. When done, the nuts should be fairly soft and the salt water should have oozed into the shells.

You can flavor small batches with additional seasonings too. I have tasted delicious Jalapeno flavored peanuts before, so this time, I made three batches: one with Habaneros, another with Red Chillies and Star Anise and the third was just plain salted peanuts.

Split the shells with your teeth so you can get the juices in your mouth. Now is not the time to be shelling them with your fingers!

This is my entry to Mansi's Game Night Party Event.

January 24, 2008

Apricot, Banana, Clementine Terrine

Terrine is French for a glazed earthenware cooking dish with vertical sides. It's also the name for any food that is prepared in a terrine (much like a tagine).

I was discussing terrines and this event with a friend, and she was aghast that I wouldn't try any other terrine. 'Jello with fruit?', she exclaimed. 'There are so many better things you can do', she said.My mind flashed back to the only time I had made and enjoyed this dish as a child, and I told her 'It tastes good...". Well? - she was right. I guess our palates change over time.

I made a Banana Bread pudding with a Tangerine Caramel sauce recently, and it had so many layers of flavors from caramelized bananas and from the fruity caramel. This dessert is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. This is an incredibly simple tasting dessert, something that kids would love. Adults? I am not so sure... So why am I blogging about this? So people who are planning to make this, know what to expect I guess. This is my entry to The Passionate Cook's (Johanna) Waiter! There's something in my... event.

Apricot, Banana, Clementine Terrine

2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin

2 cups white grape juice
1/2 cup sugar
5 1/2 to 6 cups of mixed fresh fruit, sliced. I used apricots, bananas, clementines and wild blueberries

In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup grape juice; let soften 2 to 3 minutes.

Heat sugar with another 1/4 cup grape juice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until dissolved. Remove from heat; stir in softened gelatin until dissolved, then stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups grape juice.

Place fruit in a 4-by-8-inch (6 cup capacity) loaf pan; pour gelatin mixture over, pressing fruit gently to submerge completely. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.

To unmold, dip bottom of pan in hot water for a few seconds. Invert onto a serving platter, and shake firmly to relase. Slice to serve.

This recipe is adapted from Elise's Berry and Banana Terrine.

January 18, 2008

Dahi Chaat - A Savory Yogurt Snack

Chaat - I suspect just the mere mention of this word gets people from India salivating. Chaat is the generic word for a range of Indian snacks, typically served by street vendors. Literally translated it means 'to lick' - these little plates of food are so lip smackingly delicious - you can't resist licking the plate clean.

There are a whole bunch of different dishes that fall under the chaat category: Dahi Puri, Pani Puri, Bhel Puri, etc. Puri - in this case, means a bite sized piece of crispy fried bread, the hollow shell of which is filled or topped with a number of different ingredients. You can find more information on chaat here.

In my version of dahi or yogurt chaat, I use store bought Armenian Cracker Bread in place of the puris. This crisp cracker bread is made with whole grain and it's baked, not fried. I load up this bread with chutneys, yogurt, spices and boiled potatoes and legumes . With all the delicious stuff on the bread, it becomes merely a crisp receptacle for the toppings. Healthy, fun, protein packed and a meal by itself, this dish is great for when I am not in the mood to cook anything elaborate. (I try to keep a mixture of boiled moong, chickpeas and potatoes in my freezer just for adding to chat.) This makes for a fun weeknight dinner.

The only specialty ingredient is the black salt*. This red or purple colored salt is mined from the earth, and has a distinct flavor that regular salt just can't provide. If you can taste the cracker bread, there aren't enough toppings on it - add more yogurt, chilli/cumin/black salt powder and taste again. It may take a couple of attempts to get the quantities right.

Dahi Chaat
(Serves about 4)

1 package Armenian Cracker bread
mint-coriander chutney, store bought or homemade (I like the Swad brand)
canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
moong, boiled
potatoes, boiled and cubed
cumin powder
black salt, powdered
red chilli powder
1 onion, chopped
a small bunch of cilantro, chopped
thin sev (optional)

Tamarind chutney
Dilute the tamarind concentrate in some water. Add brown sugar, salt, ginger powder and chilli powder to taste. It should taste sweet and sour.

1. Whisk the yogurt with some water if needed until smooth. The consistency shouldn't be too thick or too watery. Season with a little salt.
2. Season the moong, potatoes and chickpeas with salt and chilli powder
3. Spread a generous helping of the mint chutney on the bread. Top with potatoes, moong, chickpeas, onions and cilantro.
4. Drizzle yogurt and tamarind chutney on top. Sprinkle cumin, chilli powder and black salt.
5. The final topping is sev, if using, for some added crunch.

Serve right away before the bread gets soggy.

*Black salt is called kala namak or sanchal in Hindi. It is an unrefined mixture of minerals with a sulfurous smell. This is not the same as Hawaiian black sea salt, which is made by mixing sea salt with activated charcoal. No other salt is a good substitute for black salt's taste, so it is worth the trouble of getting the real thing. It is available online or in Indian grocery stores.

January 15, 2008

Mango Papaya Salad

This Mango Papaya Salad is a refreshing addition to almost any meal. It's a great way to get something a little sweet into the meal. And what better way to get your daily fix of fruits and vegetables?!

I used to have the preconceived notion that salads are not supposed to be sweet. But after trying many delicious salads and salsas that had something sweet, I guess I had to change my mind. This salad has a bit of heat from the chillies, sweetness from the fruit and some tang from the lime juice. You could also use pineapple in place of, or in addition to any of the fruits in this recipe - it works just as well. This is my contribution to this month's A Fruit A Month (AFAM), Papaya, hosted by Nags from For the Cook In Me.

Mango Papaya Salad
1 mango, chopped
1 small papaya, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped (optional)
1/4 red onion, finely minced
1/4 habanero or 1-2 green chillies, minced
few sprigs cilantro, chopped
lime juice, to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the minced red onion in cold water for 5-10 minutes to mellow out some of it's harshness. Combine all the ingredients. Taste and adjust with more lime juice, salt and pepper if needed.

January 12, 2008

Curried Carrot and Apple Soup

Curried Carrot and Apple Soup
I was skeptical - how could a carrot and apple soup be fun? Wouldn't it be too sweet? A closer look at the recipe* revealed just one tart apple in the whole batch, and these apples aren't overly sweet. And korma curry powder seemed interesting. I knew I could make this curry powder at home from the ingredients in my pantry. Besides, I have been smitten with the flavor of cooked tart (Granny Smith) apples recently. Cooking these apples makes them mellow and so delicious that I was surprised, and disappointed I hadn't used them sooner!

This soup was fun. Only mildly sweet, and flavorful. The combination of the fennel seeds and spices from the kurma powder paired well with the carrots. Since the familiar orange carrot is the richest vegetable source of beta carotene, I try hard to find recipes with carrots that taste good. I believe that even the most boring vegetable can shine if treated right and paired with the right ingredients. This root vegetable has a distinct aroma. It is versatile enough to play either the starring role in the dish, or merely accent the other ingredients in the dish. It is used across the board from soups (as a base ingredient in stocks, stews and soups), vegetable sides, pickles, chutneys and relishes, to desserts like carrot cake and the fudge like Gajar ka halwa. This soup is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Vani from Batasari.

Curried Carrot and Apple Soup
2 teaspoons oil
4 large carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 Thai green chilies
1 tart baking apple, chopped
3-4 cups water or vegetable broth
salt and black pepper
plain yogurt and carrot curls, to garnish

Korma Curry powder:
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon dry coconut shreds (or use fresh coconut milk or fresh frozen coconut)
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
Dash of cinnamon, clove and cardamom powder
3 tablespoons cashew nuts or almonds

Lightly toast the ingredients for the curry powder and grind to a powder.

Heat the oil and add onions and saute until transparent. Add the curry powder and fry for 2-3 minutes. Next add the carrots and apple, stir well, then cover the pan.

Cook over very low heat for about 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally until softened. Spoon the vegetable mixture into a food processor or blender, then add half the broth and process until smooth.

Return to the pan and pour in the remaining broth. Bring the soup to a boil and adjust the seasoning before serving in bowls, garnish with a swirl of yogurt and a few curls of carrot.

The recipe is adapted from a book called 'Soup: Superb ways with a classic dish'

January 8, 2008

Tom Yum Goong Soup

(Easily adaptable for Vegetarians*)

Tom Yum Soup, an aromatic, spicy, and sour Thai soup is one my comfort foods. This soup is sour and fragrant from the lemongrass and lime leaves, and soothing - try a homemade version once and you are likely to get hooked forever. Every so often, I crave these flavors; Or, when I'm down with a cold or flu, this soup warms me right up and comforts me so much so that for a brief while, it's almost fine to be sick. This is my contribution to Jugalbandi's Event CLICK: Liquid Comfort.

I stock up on the ingredients for this soup when I visit the local South East Asian store. Properly stored, lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal keep for a very long time in your freezer. (The lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass in the picture have been in my freezer for 5 months. As lemongrass ages, it may become just a touch less aromatic, so you may need to up the amount used in your recipe)

(Clockwise from top right: cilantro, green onions, button mushrooms, ginger, galangal, green chilies, lime leaves, lemongrass, lime)

Galangal tastes like an austere version of ginger, with overtones of camphor, pepper and pine. A taste of it reminded me of the smell of camphor burning in temples in India. It is used a lot in Thai cooking, and freezes beautifully. Certainly worth a try, just for the fun of it. Lime leaves and lemongrass have an aromatic sour fragrance - unlike limes which just taste sour in your food without adding much in the smell department.

Tom Yum Goong Soup
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
3-4 stalks fresh lemongrass, sliced on a bias in 2-inch pieces
10 kaffir lime leaves
1-inch piece fresh galangal or ginger or both, sliced
4-6 Thai red or green chilies, sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce, such as nam pla
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1 (8-ounce) can straw mushrooms, rinsed or 5-6 Button mushrooms sliced
1 pound large shrimp, peeled with tails on
2 limes, juiced
2 green onions, sliced
1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped

Bring the stock and water to the boil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and chiles. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes to let the spices infuse the broth. For convenience, I remove the lemongrass and lime leaves from the liquid before adding the shrimp. Authentic versions of the soup leave them in, you are expected to avoid eating them in your soup bowl.

Uncover and add the fish sauce and sugar. Simmer for 5 minutes. Toss in the shrimp and cook on very low heat (so the shrimp stay tender and juicy) for about 8 minutes until they turn pink. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice, green onions, mushrooms and cilantro. Taste for salt and spices; you should have an equal balance of spicy, salty, and sour. Keep tasting and adjusting with salt, fresh lime juice and if its not hot enough, one or two finely minced green chillies. Serve hot.


  • An overview of Thai ingredients with beautiful pictures from Jugalbandi
  • The original recipe from which I adapted mine
*The vegetarian version can be made by using vegetable stock and tofu in this recipe, and omitting the fish sauce.

January 6, 2008

Seared Sea Scallops

Scallops are bivalve mollusks with scallop-edged, fan-shaped shells (like the Shell logo). In the U.S., when a scallop is prepared, usually only the adductor muscle or eye is used. The central adductor muscle is what holds the two shell halves together. Scallops use this muscle to swim by snapping their shells together.

Scallops without any additives are called dry, dry packed, or chemical free* while scallops that are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP) are called wet packed. Frozen seafood typically has added STP to help bind the natural moisture in seafood through the freezing and thawing process**. Fresh (not previously frozen) seafood does not have any reason to use STP except to retain water and push the weight and price up. It's a good idea to ask the person behind the counter if the scallops have been treated with any chemicals or if they were previously frozen and thawed.

I do try to take the trouble to buy fresh (not frozen or previously frozen) dry scallops. Trying to get a sear on previously frozen scallops is impossible as the scallops just keep leaking water from the freezing process** - you just can't get any browning. Frozen scallops do have their uses - they are great for stews, gravies or any other wet dish.

Here is my adaptation of Alton Brown's recipe, sized for two.

Seared Sea Scallops

3/4 pound dry sea scallops
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 or 2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove the small side muscle from the scallops***.It's tough and chewy in your mouth. Rinse with cold water and thoroughly pat dry. (Drying them thoroughly is needed to get a great sear - it's the reason we bought dry scallops in the first place.)
Add the butter and oil to a saute pan on high heat. Salt and pepper the scallops. Once the fat begins to smoke, gently add the scallops, making sure they are not touching each other. Sear the scallops for 1 1/2 minutes on each side. The scallops should have a 1/4-inch golden crust on each side while still being translucent in the center. Serve immediately.

We had this for a light dinner with the Cracked Potatoes - and the only thing conspicuous by its absence was a glass of good white wine. The last time I made this, we had a dry Spanish Manzanilla sherry with it and it was mind-blowingly good. This time, I had some Sparkling white wine, but didn't bother opening it. What a mistake! - the dish was only half the fun without some good wine to go with it.

You can find some good information on scallops here and here

* Day boat or diver scallops are top notch - if you can find them - they are worth the price. Diver scallops are collected by hand by divers and they are generally the largest in size.
Day boat refers to boats that fish for scallops just for the day, rather than the traditional method of dredging for many days in a row before returning to harbor.

**You must have noticed that when you thaw frozen food water tends to run out of it. The is because water in the food ruptures the cell membranes as it expands into ice crystals. When thawed, the punctured cells leak that water out, resulting in food that is limp. The same thing happens when frozen scallops are thawed either by supermarkets before selling (which is why manufacturers try to minimize drip loss with STP) or when you thaw and cook them.

***I always forget to ask my fishmonger to remove the side muscle of the scallop - doing this will save you valuable minutes in the kitchen.

January 4, 2008

Cracked Potatoes

I saw an episode on French Bistro fare, by Amy Finely on Food TV. Her cracked potatoes recipe seemed interesting, so I gave it a couple of tries. In the first attempt, I used Thyme as she did, but forgot to add garlic. This time around I used Rosemary instead, and upped the quantity of sliced garlic to my taste. In each attempt, I couldn't bring myself to use the 1/2 cup of olive oil that the recipe called for - so I used a couple of tablespoons instead.

In this recipe, potatoes are lightly smacked until they just begin to crack (I used a mortar and pestle). Then, they are cooked over low heat with olive oil and herbs, until the potatoes are crisp on the outside and creamy inside. Garlic and more fresh herbs are added towards the end of cooking, and the garlic is allowed to become lightly brown and chewy.

I used baby red potatoes for quick cooking, Since the skin is not removed during cooking, it's best to go organic. Potatoes are also high on the list of foods the US department of agriculture recommends buying organic.

N (my significant other), loved these. I liked a couple of things about this recipe:
The garlic! - who knew browned garlic could be any good? I thought you were never supposed to brown garlic - but this was seriously delicious.
The herbs: Both thyme and rosemary were so aromatic. The smell of olive oil and herbs cooking in your kitchen is unforgettable, and then, garlic hits the pot...

This is a very simple recipe, so you can really taste the potatoes. I would like my potatoes crispier rather than creamier, so the next time around I would boil or steam the potatoes, almost flatten them to increase the surface area in touch with the pan, and then crisp them up in my cast iron skillet with olive oil, herbs and garlic . The flattening and crisping technique is inspired by fried green plantains (tostones), but is much healthier.

This is my contribution to Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Event.

January 3, 2008

Potato Gnocchi with Sage, Preserved Lemon, and Brown butter

Sage, a member of the mint family, has been enjoyed for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal uses. The name comes from a derivative of the Latin salvus, meaning "safe," a reference to the herb's believed healing powers.*

Sage is considered to have a special affinity for fatty foods like pork and cheese, so it is used in sausage dishes and poultry stuffings. It also complements potatoes and bean soups.

resh leaves are typically added near the end of cooking process, or the leaves are sauteed in butter or olive oil until crisp, much like curry leaves.

Potato Gnocchi with Sage, Preserved Lemon, and Brown Butter is a simple and flavorful dish inspired by the classic Gnocchi with Sage and Butter. It is my contribution for Weekend Herb Blogging. I used store bought Potato Parmesan Gnocchi for this recipe. (I have never made Gnocchi from scratch yet - but never say never...)

Brown butter or Beurre noisette (hazel butter) and Beurre noir (black butter) are sauces of melted butter cooked until the milk solids and sugars have turned golden or dark brown; they are often finished with an addition of vinegar or lemon juice. Brown butter is simply butter cooked until it's milk solids have browned. Butter's flavor is deepened by boiling off the water and allowing the milk sugar and proteins to react with each other to form brown pigments and new aromas**. It is often finished with an addition of vinegar of lemon juice. (Ghee is clarified butter made by boiling off the water and removing the milk solids to leave behind a clear, long keeping fat that can be heated to a higher smoke point than butter, because it has no milk solids that can burn).

I have found Preserved lemons in South east Asian stores at dirt cheap prices. These are delicious, but incredibly salty, so watch the added salt if using. I sometimes substitute them for fresh lemons as I have done in this recipe.

13oz, (about 370g) store bought Potato Parmesan Gnocchi
1 preserved lemon, seeds and center removed, finely chopped (or substitute lemon juice and zest to taste)
20-30 fresh Sage leaves, chopped
2T butter
salt to taste

Set enough water to boil to cook the gnocchi according to package directions. (When gnocchi overcooks, it turns to mush. It is also best eaten hot off the stove - I have already verified both:), so timing is of the essence). Meanwhile, melt 2T butter and let it brown to a dark amber color(do not let it burn). When the gnocchi are done, toss with the browned butter and sage and preserved lemon and toss around for a minute or so. Serve hot.

Instead of adding fresh sage leaves towards the end, you can also try frying the sage leaves to a crisp in the brown butter.

References and Notes:
*Comprehensive information on sage can be found here
** From Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

Kayln's comment about the difficulty of finding preserved lemons, inspired me to try and make Lemon Confit next. I think it may be a quick and easy substitute that doesn't need to wait for the rinds to soften - so it's good to go right away. Let me know if you do try it.